Eye socket injury doesn’t dissuade eighth-grader


A year ago, volleyball was not in the cards for Summer Johnson.

In fact, for a short time in 2013, her life was in jeopardy.

It makes her accomplishments on the volleyball court this fall even more remarkable.

In August of last year, Johnson sat in the stands on the third base line at a game in California, watching her older brother try out for the USA baseball team.

A 95 mph fastball was fouled off and hit her directly in the eye before she had time to react.

The first person to reach her was legendary Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who was also in the stands.

“If it had hit her forehead, she would have been killed,” said Dana Spears, Johnson’s volleyball coach at Konos Academy. “Because it hit in the eye socket, the eye cushioned the blow from her brain, which is the reason she wasn’t killed by the ball.”

After some time in intensive care and reconstructive surgeries, she was left with permanent damage to the eye that included blurred vision, some double vision and problems with peripheral vision.

“Her depth perception has really been affected by only having one good eye,” said Spears. “Her brain kind of takes over and uses just the good eye, but you don’t have good depth perception if you don’t have two good eyes.”

Johnson had success in recent years as a softball player, but her new condition would make even attempting that sport again somewhat problematic if not dangerous. So she turned to volleyball.

“She decided that she would try to play volleyball because it would be less dangerous and also because it’s a much bigger ball,” said Spears.

Konos is a homeschool hybrid academy in Fayetteville, meeting two days a week, which also allows students who do not attend classes there to participate in athletics.

The teams are part of the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association, the second-largest athletic league in the state, and play in Division III against mostly homeschool teams.

The school played volleyball two years ago in a non-league schedule, but didn’t field a team because the former coach had left.

This year, Spears co-coached with the assistance of an experienced college student.

There are 16 girls on the middle school and varsity teams and only one of them had played volleyball before at the start of the season.

But those with experience in softball, like Johnson, or tennis made a succesfuly transition, according to Spears.

“Softball translates really well to volleyball because the volleyball serve is like a softball pitch or a tennis serve,” she said.

It was the serve that made her take notice of Johnson, who showed significant overall improvement during the season in all areas except that one.

“She had an awesome serve the first day she picked up a volleyball,” said Spears. “We were amazed at how hard she could serve the ball. In fact, she had to learn to rein it in.”

An eighth-grader, Johnson was the top server on both teams this season, and both teams reached the GICAA state semifinals in their division.

Now that she is more than a year removed from a potentially devastating injury, there is no physical sign that she was ever hurt. But people notice her when she is on the court.

“She was very noticeable to other parents when they watched us play in tournaments,” said Spears. “She really stood out.”